Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Feature: Larry Westlake on Thrill Me

Boys will be Boys
Director Larry Westlake reflects on Leopold and Loeb and Thrill Me

by Christopher
The award-winning musical Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story by Stephen Dolginoff,  creator of the show’s book, music and lyrics, has been staged in New York, Australia, Vancouver and dozens of regional theatres throughout the United States. Internationally, the show has been staged in translations ranging from Korean and Greek to Japanese and German. For three weeks in July, Capricorn 9 Productions presents the Toronto premiere directed by Larry Westlake.

CHARPO: First, tell us about the show.

WESTLAKE: Thrill Me is the story of two twisted teenagers who murder little Bobby Franks in Chicago. It is an infamous true story from 1924 about a pair of young men who are remembered as the thrill killers. Believing they embodied Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman and were above society, the about-to-be law students lure a boy to his death simply to prove they can get away with it. They would be defended by no less than Clarence Darrow, who convinced them to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.

The show is a crime story wrapped in a love story

CHARPO: How did you discover this dark piece of musical theatre?

WESTLAKE: A number of years ago, I stumbled across an album called Most Men Are by Stephen Dolginoff. It is a four-man show about loss and acceptance that led me to contact Stephen to produce a Canadian version. Since then we have stayed in contact and he has kept me informed of what he’s been doing. When he mentioned Thrill Me a number of years ago, I knew I had to produce it and now, I finally am.

CHARPO: Do you have a favourite moment in the show?

WESTLAKE: The double meanings radiate in Nothing Like a Fire as the criminal pair set a warehouse ablaze, before romantically cozying up in front of the scene like lovers in front of the hearth. The show is a crime story wrapped in a love story, where these two find unusual ways of satisfying each other’s needs.

CHARPO: What about Thrill Me stokes your theatrical flame?

WESTLAKE: I have been trying for almost ten years to do this but always ran into some problem. But the more I didn’t do the show, the more I wanted to and here we are. In Stephen’s correspondence with me, he admitted to originally choosing the subject matter to tell the tale of a very destructive relationship and a true crime story. In addition to [Dolginoff’s] brilliant work, the fact that Thrill Me is based on the true stories of Leopold and Loeb remains one of the strongest reasons why I wanted to produce it. Ultimately, it comes down to them and their motivations. Leopold and Loeb have fascinated people ever since committing their Crime of the Century. Many stories about them have been written – some that use their names and some that only use their motivations like Rope’s End, which would be adapted into Alfred Hitchcock’s notorious film.

CHARPO: I love that film! But does that mean Thrill Me is simply a musicalization of those other renditions?

WESTLAKE: According to Stephen Dolginoff, our composer, there have only been two faithful versions of the Leopold and Loeb story: the 1992 film Swoon – which he only saw years after writing Thrill Me – and an Off-Broadway play, Never The Sinner by John Logan. As he told me in an email, he has never seen or read Logan’s piece. I think Stephen’s work reflects his research and his own ideas but is a unique work about a unique crime that just happens to have been dramatized before.

CHARPO: Why do you think audiences are so attracted to the story of these two killers?

WESTLAKE: I think people are generally interested in how typical children can kill just for the thrill of it. You hear about adults killing for various reasons like revenge or jealousy or hatred but not many adults murder just for the thrill. Killing for the sake of killing is a young person’s game. Some kids may even know it’s morally wrong, but the thing itself motivates and excites them and they commit the act to experience something that they know as dark and forbidden.

CHARPO: How has the space you are working in influenced you?

WESTLAKE: The Red Sandcastle is a small space that only seats fifty people and our staging involves coming into the audience for some scenes to include them in the action. With only a small area in which to play the show, both the actors and the audience feel like rats trapped in a cage. And maybe that’s the point: we’re all trapped inside a cage of our own creation.

Thrill Me runs at The Red Sandcastle Theatre 922 Queen St E. between July 12 and July 27. Tickets can be purchased at the door or reserved through the company email:

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